The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshots Act 2017 – the dire need to strictly adhere
Owing to the sensitive issue/nature of gunshot injuries in any instance, the issues surrounding gunshots and the relevant effects that come with it have always been a global health phenomenon.
Time after time, we read or hear about people getting involved in accidents from gunshot attacks or even from a displaced or misfired bullet. In 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Bill, which was later, passed. This means that hospitals are required to accept any and every gunshot case; with or without a police report. It also implies that they have to treat the victims of this case without any initial deposit, that is, hospitals are mandated to treat them with or without demanding for an initial monetary deposit as stated in Section 2(2)(a) of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017. Now, there is no clarity as to the extent or level of treatment to be administered, as the Act does not state whether total or full treatment ought to be administered but it states that immediate & adequate treatment should be given: every hospital in Nigeria, whether public or private shall accept or receive, for immediate and adequate treatment with or without police clearance, any person with a gunshot wound.
There are currently a lot of issues surrounding this provision, as a few hospitals still demand for Police reports and refuse to attend to the victims, until a report is presented or provided. A typical example was the case of Mr. Precious Owolabi a Youth corper serving at Channels Television in Abuja who was shot while reporting the clash between the Nigeria Police Force, and members of the Islamic Movement Nigeria; and the tragic case of Adebayo Akinwunmi, a senior engineer of Ericsson who was attacked by armed robbers at his house in the Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State. Mr. Adebayo Akinwunmi was shot in the rib region by one of the robbers, after he and his wife were raided of their ATM cards, phones and laptops. He was later rushed to a private medical facility within the area, but was however rejected as the doctors demanded for a police report for the gunshot injuries. The victim was rushed to his company hospital in Ikeja, yet they were faced with the same dilemma, as he was rejected without a police report. They finally referred the family to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, where they were informed that there was no surgeon to attend to the victim due to the ongoing strike action of medical doctors in the country. Mr. Adebayo Akinwunmi died in LASUTH as a result of these ordeals.
Medical practitioners must realize that saving lives is more critical than waiting for a formal police report, and they have been warned time yet again, that any hospital that fails to abide by the decision will be held for criminal neglect. Human lives ought to be saved first, before demanding police reports from victims and their family members. Doctors must realize/recall that they swore the Hippocratic Oath to save lives before any formalities. However it is understandable that due to the instances that might have occurred in previous cases in the past; where doctors were harassed and occasionally arrested for administering treatment to victims of gunshot wounds, as it was customary for the Chief Medical Director of such hospitals to be questioned as to any links with armed robbery syndicates or gangs. There was also the erroneous assumption by the police, that every gunshot victim might have been a criminal who escaped from the fusillade of their bullets; which in itself is a breach of the fundamental right that states that every person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Here they have not even been charged with a criminal offence. Several lives have been lost due to this, and the delays that resulted from the previous line of action/ protocol with gunshot victims.
The hospital’s rejection of these cases verges on the abuse of the most important fundamental right imbibed and backed up by our Constitution – the right to life enshrined in Section 33(1). In addition, the National Health Act 2014 mandates Healthcare providers to treat patients that come in as an emergency. The law provides in Section 20 that a healthcare provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person on emergency medical treatment for any reason. An offender is liable to a fine of N100, 000.00, a jail term of six months or both upon conviction.
Hospitals are required to notify the police of this admission/ treatment, within 2 hours of the commencement of treatment for gunshot victims, and upon receipt of this report, the police are required to commence investigation to determine the circumstance under which the victim was shot. It should be noted that there is a penalty for failing to make a report. Section 5 of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot (CTCFVG) Act 2017 states that hospitals that fail to make a report are liable on conviction to a fine of N100, 000.00 and every doctor directly concerned with the treatment is equally liable on conviction to for a term of six months or a fine of N100, 000.00 or imprisonment or both.
Section 10 also mandates hospitals to contact the family of the victim within 24 hours of identifying such victims. In addition, hospitals ought to ensure a proper record of treatments of gunshot victims are kept.
The constitutional right of every citizen; to dignity of human person is also reaffirmed in Section 2(b) of the CTCFVG Act as it states that:
‘No person with a gunshot wound shall be subjected to torture or any inhuman or degrading treatment by any person or authority including the police or any security agency.’
The dignity of volunteers are also protected as Section 8 states that every volunteer or helper of a victim of gunshot shall be treated with respect and shall not be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation in their genuine attempt to save life. This is a key provision, as prior to the Act (in the past), the police usually arrested volunteers/helpers.
The police are cautioned on inviting victims for questioning until they have been certified to be fit/ not in dire need of medical care, thus able to undergo the vigor of investigation. There is a discreet requirement by the police to ensure that their suspect is alive/well and does not easily by pass the consequence of the actions by dying. That is, the Police would rather their suspect/victim is alive and aids investigation by either giving the police the details or information that will aid investigation or they (the suspect) live to face the consequence of their actions.
The penalty for those who commit an offence under the Act, which leads to or causes substantial physical, mental, emotional and psychological damage to the victim is a conviction to a term of not more than 15 years and not less than five years without the option of fine.
It is also important to note that – it is an offence to stand on the fence and not do anything as the Act states in Section 11 that any person or authority including any police officer, other security agent or hospital who stands by and fails to perform his duty under this Act which results in the unnecessary death of any person with gunshot wounds commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500, 000.00 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both.
The Act also makes provisions for restitution; as Section 13 not only provides for the trial of the corporate body/prosecution of the head of the corporate body who violates the Act ; but makes provision (in Section 14) for the High Court to order such corporate bodies, or persons found violating this Act to make restitution to the victim, by directing them (person/corporate body) to pay the victim an amount equivalent to the loss sustained by the victim. It should be noted that this provision is in addition to any other penalty that might have been sustained.
The enactment of this Act, and the provisions under the Act is very timely and definitely a step in the right direction. It is not enough to have such Act, but imperative for citizens to be made aware of its provisions, and encouraged to strictly adhere to same (these provisions) by being aware of their rights and enforcing such rights. Hospitals and Doctors are also advised to adhere strictly to the provisions provided under this Act. The Nigerian Police force should also ensure that the rights of citizens are protected by strictly upholding/enforcing the provisions of this Act.
Associate, SimmonsCooper Partners.